I rapped softly on his office door, magically hoping he might have taken a vacation, thereby allowing me to chalk up credit for effort while not actually having to engage with him again, even though I was learning, to my growing dismay (alright, horror), that there were no real vacations from true forgiveness.
“Come in,” he said.
I opened the door and closed it behind me, settling into the seat in front of my imaginary professor’s desk, unable to meet his knowing eyes. I’d been up all night, counting the reasons in my argument like beads on a rosary.
“Long time no see with,” he said, folding his hands, a line he had borrowed from me, actually, that never failed to make me smile.
Instead, I sighed, the kind of sigh for which I am justly famous in certain circles, a sigh that can still make certain family members take to their rooms. I cleared my throat. I think I may need a sabbatical.” There, I’d said it.
“You know, some time off from this curriculum to reevaluate my goals.”
“That sounds serious.”
I nodded. Gravely.
“And that would be because?”
I hesitated, heart racing, suddenly feeling like that seven-year-old girl again, kneeling alone in the confessional as if awaiting execution, about to make her first in a long line of confessions that never seemed to relieve anything. I drew a deep breath. “I’m really not sure I’m cut out for this Course,” I whispered.
“Ah, and what makes you say that?”
But where to begin? Despite my good intentions, I seemed to have reached a kind of plateau in working with A Course in Miracles in which I almost always recognized the ego’s voice, and yet could not always seem to stop listening to its smarmy albeit seductive ways, or feeling the brutal brunt of its threats. The United States’ worldwide terrorist alert, the result of elevated Al Qaeda internet chatter, seemed nothing compared to the Chatty Kathy terrorist within, who had ratcheted up her dire warnings about the consequences should I continue practicing this Course to unprecedented levels. The only life I’d ever really known and would ever have again lay at stake, the disparaging voice cautioned, in hollow, cable-newscaster tones. I stood to lose my connections to my family, my friends, my work, my body, a very fine Sauvignon blanc chilling in the fridge, the very remnants of my tormented mind, my very “my-ness,” should I continue with this program. Arguments recent plot developments in The Serial Adventures of Separated Susan appeared to support all too well.
Then too, I had never been more aware of the way in which I couldn’t seem to sustain the good intentions I set at the start of each day to look on everyone and thing through the kindly amused and compassionate-to-all eyes of you know who. The way in which, as the seconds, minutes, and hours in my seeming classroom ticked on, my focus inevitably wavered. I couldn’t stop checking my watch, couldn’t stop imagining the dulcet toll of the proverbial bell signaling an end to the day’s lessons, the welcome opportunity to once more flee the mind for the gleaming pleasures of this imaginary world, even though their luster paled almost instantly these days in my greedy, little hands.
Maybe I just needed some space away from this office, this classroom, these DVDs, this curriculum. A little time off to make sure I really wanted to go where this Course was really leading, was that too much to ask? The more I thought about it, the more rational the argument became as arguments will to support their premise. What harm could there possibly be in taking a little time off to recharge my decision-making batteries? It was summer, after all, sabbatical season when you came right down to it. I even had a brief vacation with my daughter already planned to commence in just a few days, the perfect launch to what I hoped might prove a more extended, well-earned hiatus. Besides, I just wasn’t ready to be kind all the time to everyone and everything, especially not to me. I needed another walk on the wild side, sans Robed Wonder, that is. If he wasn’t going to take some time off, I would just have to do it myself.
I cleared my throat, invigorated. “I’m afraid the time has come for me to be my badass self again,” I said.
His brows shot up and down the way they do.
“You know, maybe break out a bottle of wine, crack open a box of See’s chocolates, and catch a few episodes of The Chew. Not exactly activities to engage in with my Best Self, right?”
He cocked his head. “You think I care what you do?”
“Besides, I mean, thanks for the memories and all, but I still need my freedom.”
He smiled. “Oh, come on,” he said. “You think I’m keeping you here?” He threw back his head and laughed.
I stood, clutching the back of the chair for courage. “I really think I’d better be going, now,” I said. “ ‘So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, goodbye,’ as the song goes.”
I had my hand on the doorknob, my back to him, one foot already firmly planted on the threshold of God knows not what when the words came.
“You think there’s somewhere I’m not?”
When I was a little kid, I climbed a tall cherry tree, slipped, and fell to the ground on my back, unable for long moments that seemed more like years to draw my next breath as the clouds strutted across the stage of the blue sky, as if going somewhere. I felt like that now.
“We’ve talked about this,” he said, softly, after a while.
And he was right. I let out my breath, turned around, and settled back into my chair. “I see what you’re saying,” I said.
“You always do.”
“There is no badass Susan. No need for me to come to this office to find you. I need to start taking you with me all the time; in spirit, I mean–right?”
“Even when I’m feeling confused and doubting, unloved and unloving, antsy as hell. … No, especially when I’m feeling unloved and unloving. Even when I want to run away from you, I can remember your non-judgmental presence. Look with you; decide with you from moment to moment to remember my only real need has already been met. A truth I will eventually awaken to if I just keep looking and talking with you. It’s like you say in A Course in Miracles workbook lesson 41, paragraphs 2-4:
“The separated ones have invented many “cures” for what they believe to be “the ills of the world.” But the one thing they do not do is to question the reality of the problem. Yet its effects cannot be cured because the problem is not real. The idea for today has the power to end all this foolishness forever. And foolishness it is, despite the serious and tragic forms it may take.
Deep within you is everything that is perfect, ready to radiate through you and out into the world. It will cure all sorrow and pain and fear and loss because it will heal the mind that thought these things were real, and suffered out of its allegiance to them.
You can never be deprived of your perfect holiness because its Source goes with you wherever you go. You can never suffer because the Source of all joy goes with you wherever you go. You can never be alone because the Source of all life goes with you wherever you go. Nothing can destroy your peace of mind because God goes with you wherever you go.”
I had simply forgotten, again, that the ego is never my friend, however much it enjoys impersonating one at the end of a long day in the proverbial forgiveness classroom in which I have actually managed to choose our right mind’s perspective quite a few times. “I just become afraid again is what you’re really saying, believing the ego’s lies that I have something to lose by looking at my allegiance to Susan’s never-ending needs with you. When, in truth, as you have told me many times, you never take my special relationships away, you just transform them into learning tools to help me remember my only real need has already been met. In truth, I will eventually awaken to that reality if I just keep looking and talking with you. Because, unlike the ego’s, your opinion of me never changes according to my thoughts or feelings or behavior, or anything at all, does it?”
Jesus shook his head.
I thought about how all my life I’d been seeking to please one external teacher after another, teachers I could never satisfy; somehow nonetheless believing I deserved credit for trying so hard, even as I clung to my illusion of good Susan and bad. But there was just one teacher of good and bad, born of the guilty belief that good could have an opposite: the ego. And just one teacher of prevailing goodness and unwavering innocence: the imaginary “savior” sitting across the imaginary desk in front of an imaginary me.
“I can take you wherever I go because no matter what I do or say or think, your opinion of me has nothing to do with the person I see when I look in the mirror. If I keep doing that, my identification with this false self will eventually collapse, leaving only all I ever really wanted. I just need to be patient, trust, and experience everything I still seek ‘out there’ with you.”
“Your love is unaffected by anything I might dream up to keep the possibility of guilt alive, isn’t it? I just need to keep asking how you see everyone and everything, including, not excluding, me, because, as you say in Chapter 9, paragraph 3, ‘It is perfectly obvious that if the Holy Spirit looks with love on all He perceives, He looks with love on you.’ ”
Jesus just continued to smile, go figure.
I sat without speaking a while. (Hard to believe, I know.) “I still need a break,” I said, finally.
“Ever been to the Pacific Northwest?”
“Well, pack your hiking boots,” I said, extending my hand.
Susan Dugan’s books Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness, Forgiveness Offers Everything I Want, and Forgiveness: The Key to Happiness are available at RMMC and on Amazon. She writes about ACIM based on Ken Wapnick’s teachings at ForaysInForgiveness.com and teaches Tuesday nights at RMMC.